Sunday, 19 October 2014


One of my highlights from the Kasaragod trip a week ago, was the quality time I got to spend with my grandparents. Well, more like granduncle and aunt. My mother grew up with her uncle and aunt, so that became home for her. And for me, that meant an extra set of grandparents! Woohoo!

My granduncle (uppapa) is one of the most charming and inspiring man I know.  At 84, he’s one of the most energetic people around. At 6ft, my uppapa stands tall in my childhood memories. I remember him as someone who’s always on the move, always occupied. For the brief moments he was not doing something, or helping someone out, or treating his patients, he could be found relaxing on the antique reclining chair in the living room , listening to his transistor radio. When he wasn’t around, us grandkids would gather around that wooden reclining chair and take turns pretending to be him. When he was at the hospital, we used to sneak into  his consulting room to look at the scary injections and play doctor with his stethoscope.

I have observed that most of the septuagenarians and octogenarians I know have slowly lost interest in life and living. (Granted many of them are suffering from some of the other ailment that makes life difficult). Uppapa, however, is different. Each time I see him, he seems more and more enthusiastic about life. This time I wanted to know what drives him to be so upbeat all the time, so I spent most of the days in Kasaragod just talking to him.

One thing that is true of most grandparents is their enthusiasm to share their stories with us. They are in fact waiting to talk to someone about the life they led, reminisce those they loved and lost, of their childhood mischief. Nostalgia does tend to bear down on you when not shared. My grandma never misses an opportunity to show me pictures of relatives I can never keep track of. She says it is so that this precious knowledge of how people are tied together is not lost with her passing away. It makes me sad to hear her say that, but also inspired to see someone put in that much effort to preserve the memory of a loved one.Similarly, Uppapa also loves talking about his heydays (If you ask me though, he is still in his heydays!). I used to spend tea time with him talking about his work. Power-cuts are the norm in the evenings, all other activity ceases for that while. Often we would sit on the verandah in the dark, seeing each others faces only when the occasional vehicle passed by. Talking to uppapa in such a setting is enchanting, as he begins narrating his stories…

Uppapa studied in Madras Medical College, the only Medical college in South India at that time. His parents were landlords and were not keen on him pursuing a profession that did not carry with it the glamour it does now. He, however, was insistent and got through medical college in four years.  While his colleagues moved to Europe and the US in search of greener pastures, Uppapa came back to Kasaragod. As the only son, he was still required to look after the family land.

He was one of the few doctors in Kasaragod at that time and slowly people came to recognize him. He soon married my grandaunt (mammima) and was well settled in no time. Family circumstances changed and in the 70s he took up a job in Libya for a few years.  He still speaks about the hospitality and warmth of the Libyan people and how accepting and tolerant they were of all faiths. Libya then was a comfortable place to live in, everyone had a house, access to healthcare and education for all children. After a few years there, he wired some of his savings back home and with the rest he decided to travel Europe. It was a spontaneous trip. With all his baggage he went to Athens, left it in a locker and then made his way to England. He visited France, Switzerland, Belgium and couple of other countries he doesn’t remember now. He especially loved England and said he found London cheaper than New Delhi at that time! I was shocked when he said the cheapest place to shop then was Oxford street (What?!). He returned with lots of memories and a few ‘Angrezi’ trinkets that are now resting somewhere in the attic of the ancestral home.

Uppapa is the kind who believes work is worship, so he never actually stopped working. One evening he told me, “I never lost the will to live, and that urge to earn and support my family. I feel that if I stop working now I will just die.” So this 84 year old man has a busier schedule than most other working folks I know. He still drives. In the mornings he performs a few minor surgeries. Afternoons are spent consulting and evenings visiting and treating the residents of a government run Oldage home. I am pretty sure he’s older than most of the residents there!

Uppapa, I think, was born way ahead of his time. He still wants to travel and experience new things. When in discussion with him, I often find myself surprised at how progressive his views are on…basically everything! Be it education or women’s rights or marriage or religion and spirituality, he always manages to stump me with what he has to say.

What I wrote here fails miserably to capture the essence of who Uppapa is. Each time I talk to him, I realize the futility of attempts to convey his dynamism, his thirst for life, his drive to help others, his desire to leave the world with no regrets. How can one actually elucidate a life lived fully for eight decades(and continuing) serving others and manage to do justice to it?

So this is just a faltering attempt to let the world know of this great man than I am proud to call my Uppapa. I am sure that even a glimpse of who he is, is enough to be inspired. 

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